Aaaand now you're thinking: this gal is completely unqualified to talk about awesome cover designers. You are, as usual, completely correct.
At my level of power in the biz (i.e., none), I don't talk to artists, designers, or art directors. I don't offer feedback on final designs. I don't get a yes or no. If there's something truly wrong about a final cover, I can point out that detail and it may or may not change. I think the reasoning here is that I don't know markets or reader expectations nearly as well as the people who are in charge of bringing my story to the public. So I bow to their experience and expertise.
However! What I can show you is a peek at the one thing I do get to contribute to the cover-design process: an information packet that describes the characters and setting. I send these in at product launch time, right at the beginning, and they are supposed to function as a cheat sheet so the designers and artists don't have to slog through reading the whole book.
I love filling out these things and sharing my inspirations and wishes; it's one of my favorite parts of book production. Here's what I sent Sourcebooks for Perfect Gravity (note that the images I included are all copyrighted, so I can't post them here, but I've included a short description of each in [brackets] and I'm sure your imagination or Google-fu can illuminate the rest):
Hero (Kellen Hockley)
Race: Texan (okay, not a race, but definitely a type)
Complexion: Tan from spending a lot of time outside
Body (height/build): He gets a lot of exercise. Um, I used this image for inspiration:
[pic of Scott Eastwood shirtless]
Hair color/length: dark blond
Eye color (one word): blue
Facial hair? Nothing really in the story, though he does go a few days without a shave there in the middle and could definitely be scruffy.
Clothing: He wears jeans and boots a lot. Stetson sometimes (outdoors only, because down-home manners!). A belt buckle. At the very end of the book, at a fancy-dress shindig, he wears a tux. Thusly:
[pic of Scott Eastwood in a tux]
Signature Accessory: A cat. He rarely goes anywhere without Yoink, a cloned, bionic kitty. She’s cinnamon-and-white striped and has metal horns protruding from her wee skull, near her ears. The details aren’t hugely important. If y’all decide to put a cat on the cover, I don’t think it matters too much what kitty looks like.
[pic of shirtless cowboy holding a cat]
My dream cover for this book would feature a shirtless cowboy holding a bionic cat. But probably that stock photo would be really, really hard to find.
Heroine (Angela Neko)
Complexion: more South-Indian than Japanese, so kind of latte
Age: early 30s
Body (height/build): short, slight, in command (of everything). Bit Napoleonish.
Hair color/length: Black. Can be in any style: she goes from having a super fancy updo to being bald to having a short pixie cut at the end.
Eye color: dark brown
[pic of Priyanka Yoshikawa]
Clothing: Conservative high-fashion futuristic chic. Tailored to within an inch of her life, but with flights of couture weird. In terms of style and deportment, I think of her as a mashup of Huma Abedin, Padme Amidala, and Alexander McQueen.
[pic of Huma Abedin in her wedding dress]
[pic of vaguely steampunk long-sleeved Alexander McQueen dress with buckles and frogging on the bodice]
[pic of Padme Amidala in her heavy velvet addressing-the-Galactic-Senate costume]
Key Accessory: Elbow-length biodeterrent smartgloves. (That, uh, just look like regular gloves, those heavy-duty long things the Victorians wore to keep the whole world off their skin.)
(similar to first book in series)
The year 2059, so near future. Look should be futuristic but gritty.
Western U.S. desert (so, lots of scrub-brush flora and bumpy horizons) with an unexpected giant megastructure (an arcology, like those mongo buildings in BladeRunner) jutting out of a vast, dark nothing.
Also scenes in post-apocalyptic underwater Galveston and a futuristic Guadalajara.
This movie poster sums up the mood nicely:
[pic of Cowboys vs Aliens movie poster featuring Daniel Craig's backside]
Cover descriptive words
Techno, sexy, old-west, bleak, futuristic
And this is the cover they came up with:
I think the cover is gorgeous. Does it match my vision? Not really. But it fits smoothly into that urban-fantasy kickass-heroine market, which is where I suspect the publisher was trying to place it.
So, yeah, it's probably best I don't have a lot of control over covers. There are people who are much better at this than I am.
But, just the tiniest bit, I do mourn the shirtless-cowboy-with-a-robot-cat cover that never was.